In the weeks leading up to the Olympics, which officially started last Friday, there has been a lot of discussion about the living conditions in Rio, primarily related to the Zika virus. But other safety issues shadow athletes, coaches and spectators, many of whom are insufficiently aware of the travel risks they confront. Crimes of opportunity on the streets abound – and armed criminals have made robbery and extortion cottage industries in Rio as well as in cities across the country. Travelers would do well to brush up on the Overseas Security Advisory Council’s (OSAC) annual Global Crime Report, which outlines crimes that target foreign nationals, and how to prevent common travel-related security incidents from happening.
Top 4 Crimes Affecting Travelers Abroad
Though pickpocketing is the most widely known form of crime targeting tourists and foreign nationals, the simple precautions that can be used to stop it are often ignored. The “stealth and craftiness” of pickpockets require attention to detail and awareness. Those who display electronic devices or money in public are further susceptible to these crimes. A common tactic used by pickpockets is to create a distraction or diversion, often with the aid of accomplices, in order to swiftly get away with a stolen item without the owner even knowing. By securing your valuables on your person, being aware of your surroundings and securing your personal space, these crimes can be avoided.
Crimes Involving Cars
You can easily become a target if you are driving your own car in another country. In these instances, a person may approach a vehicle if windows are rolled down and quickly steal something. Traffic and congestion make it easy for perpetrators on foot to make an easy escape. Additionally, when driving in low populated areas, especially at night, foreign nationals can be an easy target for vehicle theft. It is important to store valuable items in a concealed or hard-to-see place while driving, and to avoid driving in unknown areas at night when possible.
For foreign nationals using taxis abroad, it is important to learn and observe the local customs associated with them. Travelers are particularly at risk when hailing a taxi on their own, or using unlicensed and unregistered taxis. In some cases, drivers are associated with robbers, who together set people up to be robbed. These incidents can be avoided by using a hotel or phone service to request a taxi, and not hailing a cab while alone.
Use of Drugs to Perpetrate Crimes
An often overlooked type of crime is the use of drugs to carry out other crimes. In places such as Brazil, it is common for bartenders to be in cooperation with others in order to place drugs in drinks or food to easily carry out other crimes. It is important to note that this practice does not only occur in run-down bars or neighborhoods, but in affluent and tourist-heavy places as well. The best way to avoid this crime is to always watch a bartender pour your drink, avoid standing out, keep a hand over your drink when in conversation and be extremely mindful of your surroundings.
Remain alert and aware of your surroundings. Research the security concerns for the countries and neighborhoods you are planning to visit, especially if you are a first-time visitor or will not be meeting family of friends at that place. OSAC provides a country report on the general crime and safety concerns in each country.
Top 4 Ways to Protect Yourself Abroad
To help assure your safety and security abroad, be proactive before and while on a trip abroad.
1. Passport Protection
The most important thing to guard while abroad is your passport. Not only are passports essential to your staying and returning from a country, but they are actively sought by individuals for theft. Make several copies of your passport prior to leaving, and giving one to a trusted individual. Keep other copies separate while traveling abroad in case a piece of luggage or bag is stolen. Whether or not to keep your passport on your person is a situational question. Assess your surroundings and determine where the safest place for your passport will be, whether in a safe at a hotel or in a secured bag.
2. State Department STEP Program
The State Department has created a “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program” (STEP) in order to allow individuals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The program is free and allows you to receive important information regarding your destination and help the embassy and family contact you in an emergency.
3. Identify Essential Locations
While traveling abroad it is beneficial to locate and know where the nearest hospital, embassy, emergency centers is located in case of an emergency or crisis situation. Along those lines, be aware of what the State Department can and cannot do for you in a crisis.
Take time to read and understand local customs, rules or behaviors that are important to observe. More often than not, it is best for you to observe those practices out of respect or safety.
So even if you’re not traveling to Rio and just watching the Olympics from the comfort of your home, follow these tips anytime and anywhere you travel. Unsure how safe an area is? Hillard Heintze Traveler Powered by Prescient allows you to assess the danger of an area – crime, terrorism and weather threats – and keep track of where you are traveling – domestically and internationally. Learn more about Traveler by clicking below.